Dietro le quinte (Behind the scenes – The professions of the theatre)

Article by Anna Maria Piccoli, Mulab

A brief true story of an Online training project born during the pandemic.

Two years of the pandemic had routed the entire planet, brought entire sectors to their knees, laid bare every single weakness of the system at a planetary level. In this dramatic macro scenario, the Italian context, even before Covid 19, showed signs of inadequacy both on the capacity of some artistic languages ​​and creative sectors to reach new generations and engage a new audience, both on the school’s ability to regenerate and keep up with the times and ever-faster changes.

One practical problem schools found in Italy between 2020 and 2022 was the “PCTO – Pathways for life skills and orientation”. A compulsory scheme for the job market within the last three years of high school from 90 to 120 hours depending on the fields of study. Given the circumstances, the PCTO activities were not easy to organise.
On this background, premises and pretext, “Dietro le quinte” was born. This article aims to report (or perhaps better the narrative) an experimental format delivered by Forma Camera (Special Agency of the Chamber of Commerce), Teatro Verde, Teatro Villa Pamphilj and Mulab. A solid local network of structures and associations operating in different fields which, thanks to creativity, the need not to leave young people alone in such a difficult period and the support of technologies, have joined forces and shared goals on common ground and despite the adverse period.
The aims of the project are different yet deeply interconnected:

1) Guide and show young people to trades and professions they may never have thought of or have only heard about without understanding the sector’s scope, characteristics, and potential through direct meetings with practitioners who operates actively in that area.
2) To bring youngsters closer to the language of theatre, to the beauty and social, political and community value it represents, as well as to the various possible applications of theatrical techniques and methodologies, with particular emphasis on puppetry and the profession of the puppeteer.
3) Be a better and more critical audience
4) Tell, highlight and underline the life skills activated and strengthened in a creative path and make participants aware of the ongoing training process.
5) Take advantage of digital technology for inclusiveness and enhancement of opportunities.
The entire activity, structured Online in five days for 28 hours since April 2021, has involved 12 higher education institutions for 14 weeks and over 300 students.

How it takes place

During the first day, the students are offered an exercise in Storytelling in a nutshell: to present themselves briefly through an object and give something of themselves to others. They are then asked if they have been impressed by the story of some companions, and the answers are often very fascinating: it is surprising to see how this little game is enough to activate profound mechanisms.
Then they had an introduction to the concept of life skills, which for most of them are unknown. Their importance (learning to learn, self-awareness, creative thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, unexpected management, and leadership) and are asked to pay attention during the little journey that will take place together with when these skills are activated, intervened, strengthened.
Then they are offered the vision of a Pier Paolo Pasolini’s movie (“What are the clouds?”) focused on the story of Shakespeare’s Othello in a puppet theatre with marionettes played by actors in flesh and blood.

The short film, full of poetry, philosophy, references of all kinds to all the arts, rich in connections is the spark, the illustrious reference and the hook from which the entire training course starts. Moreover, the fact that it refers to Othello allows talking and facing negative feelings and attitudes such as envy, jealousy, racism with the young people at various stages of work.
At the end, and under the supervision of professional puppeteers, the participants are invited to build a puppet. And think about what voice it has, what’s its name, to photograph it or make a short video of it to show how it moves, to share it on the platform (Google Classroom) and reflect on the sensation they felt to create and bring to life something that did not exist before.

The creative writing is the main focus on the second day, with exercises along the lines of the Surrealists. After induction and general on the dramaturgy by a professional, the youngsters split into groups not chosen by them and tasks are assigned:
– Each Group must make a video of a maximum duration of three minutes by the morning of the fifth day
– Each Group has a track extrapolated from the plot of Shakespeare’s Othello revisited by Pasolini, which can be carried out freely except for constraints that must be respected: for example, a track can be “Iago and Roderigo plot against Othello on a bus”. The constraint is the bus.

The youngsters can upset the language, the gender of the characters, the era; what matters is that the function and the bond are respected: two envious people plot something wrong against a third person, and this conspiracy takes place on a bus.
– In the tracks of some groups, it is mandatory to use puppets as a constraint (for example, a puppet audience rebels at the ending of Othello played by real actors); others can use them if they want.
– Each Group, if it wishes or has logistical difficulties, can work remotely using technologies, and they don’t have to see each other.
– The delivery of the work is instead mandatory, whatever happens, a protected simulation of what happens in the work when there is a deadline.

During the third and fourth day, the young people meet professionals in directing, acting, musical composition, organisation, and technique who tell the participants about their jobs. And the skills necessary to carry them out and the sector in which they work. And, at the same time, support them with suggestions and inputs to carry on the work of the video.

On the morning of the fifth day, with videos uploaded to the platform, tutors invite students to believe in their work and organise an honest presentation that enhances their products.

The videos show one after the other. A collective discussion develops, involving students and tutors, reflecting on the journey covered and the results obtained, emphasising the skills they have activated, the strengths and points of weakness, and improvable.
At the end of the course, the ongoing projects of the whole partnership and the real possibilities are shared and offered to them to take part in it and approach the job market.


A few considerations

At the beginning of the week, the young people almost always appear displaced and confused. As the days go by, they abandon themselves to the project and, generally, on Fridays, they are positive: in their presentations, you can feel the satisfaction of having created something new and unexpected, in a short time, almost non-existent, and the fun in having done it. Their feedback, in the anonymous questionnaires administered at the end of the course, is more than positive when not enthusiastic, and the words they most often use in their comments are “involvement”, “participation”, and “passion”. This would suggest that it is not so impossible to involve the participants in training, with the proper method, even in non-formal remote paths, which, beyond the pandemic, can instead be accessible even to schools and context that have difficulty in logistic type.

In each of the works produced by young people, there is almost always at least one excellent idea, a thought, a fascinating choice, which makes us confident that creative thinking has been activated and worked. Very rarely has there been a group that has approached the work superficially to do it. However, we often detect significant commitment and fun in the videos.

Participants often give thanks for being mixed up and divided, taken out of the comfort zone of their usual relationships. They can grasp that this mixing produces something new and hope this will happen more often in their formal and ordinary formative sphere.
For the observation carried out so far, the young people do not show any difficulties with technology, even when they have to face something they have never done before: downloading programs, learning from tutorials, setting up Green Screen without ever having done it before, making mistakes and try again with great agility and ease. Of course, what is required is not a “good video”, as they do not even have the minimum time to make it; however, what comes out every time is fantastic. They are total masters of the digital sphere and are happily aware of their abilities and use them.

However, they lack the knowledge, even superficial, of languages ​​and real artistic techniques, even as mere observers and spectators. In fact, at the beginning of the course, they mainly declare they do not read books, do not attend cinemas and theatres, not know actors, directors, and models, including films, of the past. And that they have never questioned themselves about the production process and the techniques, about the language of the tv series they see. Their references are mainly Gaming, Manga, Videos on Social Networks, and, a few steps below, Music.

Moreover, perhaps also due to the two years of the pandemic, they have difficulty understanding the political sense in a broad sense and the community function of the live show, concepts that, in Behind the Scenes – emerge clearly.


It comes to think, with a bit of irony, that while our generation of children of the Sixties and Seventies was anxious to try to keep up with the digital revolution, to learn how to use search engines, e-mail functions, and Social Network, on which perhaps wildly arguing against the use of Social Networks, has forgotten to transmit in an effective way to this population of girls and boys who, on the other hand, can quickly teach digital to us, a system of community values ​​and images, suggestions and experiences helpful in building a better world.

Luckily those guys are good enough to get them back alone, that experience and those values, and intelligent enough to defend themselves from the pitfalls of the digital world and probably also good protecting us.

We can make our contribution by preserving the light of those values that we have not been too good at defending, hoping that they are. And hoping the birth of a thousand experimental paths such as “Dietro le quinte” can be a spark, an inspiration to give them a boost.

Partnership: Forma Camera, Green Theater, Villa Pamphilj Theater, Mulab
Thanks: Enrico Biciocchi, Federico Borzelli, Andrea Calabretta, Giulia Masini, Veronica Olmi, Enzo Pellegrini, Paola Scamardi, Valeriano Solfiti.
Reference projects: ARCO, ECLN – European Cultural Learning Network, Young Guru, Talent Matching, CREUS, HIT, MAXXI A (r) t Work, Master Verde, Polverone di Stelle

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